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Why fan activation solutions are here to stay

If there is one thing that the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded the world of sport, it is the value of its fans. The punters in the stands who create the unique atmosphere that we perhaps had begun to take for granted.


When certain sporting franchises such as the German Bundesliga first began to take tentative steps onto the sporting restart ice many brands, rights holders, competitions and clubs watched on to see how, and if, it would hold. Fans also watched on their screens with bated breath to see what the new experience would be like.


At first, new fan activation methods such as broadcaster audio crowd noise solutions seemed disconcerting and peculiar. Yet, with fans in stands conspicuous by their absence, the fundamental role of fan support and engagement for a sporting spectacle quickly became pronounced. Thus fan activation solutions, with core features built purely for activating watching fans and sparking the emotions sport feeds off, have steadily become accepted as a vital element of the ‘new normal’.


Yet are these fan activation solutions here to stay? Or just an intelligent stop-gap to keep us connected to the sports, teams and names we love during these unprecedented times? It is increasingly looking like the former.


It was recently stated by Mike Wragg of Nielsen Sports that COVID-19 “is not completely changing the sponsorship landscape, but is accelerating developments and trends.” Indeed, one of the pre-COVID trends was the increasing need to find new ways to activate fans during sporting contests. What this turbulent period has done is accelerate these trends and the process.


To re-use an earlier example, many companies have fast-tracked the development of audio solutions to fill the atmosphere void. The most well-known recent case was BT Sport successfully broadcasting the compressed endings to the Champions League and Europa League - the fans weren’t there but the watching experience, coupled with their daily review shows, kept us feeling engrossed.


Similarly, the NBA’s recent partnership with Microsoft to reshape the virtual fan experience was due to begin in the 2020-21 season. However, the initiative was brought forward for the remainder of this season with an additional element designed to enhance the NBA’s broadcast initiatives during its return-to-play plan. At games, 17-foot video boards surround the courts, with fans looking like they’re sat next to each other, able to interact and with the players able to hear their reactions in real time.


Such activation techniques are becoming increasingly commonplace and vital in particular for sports teams and broadcasters finding new ways to sustain and build fan relationships. These investments have been made because uncertainty is the only certainty about the short-term future of live sport - we still do not know when things will return to normality. The losses of traditional revenue sources are still being compensated for by sports rights holders. Therefore without further confidence in the future it would make no sense to deviate away from fan activation development.


The drive from behemoths such as Alibaba is also only going to further stimulate the market. The e-commerce giant has just launched a range of AI and cloud solutions to help rights holders optimise engagement, including a Fan Video Hub that filters real-time social media videos that can be used inside a sporting arena. As shown by the SportsTech Match marketplace, there are now an array of companies across the globe with fan activation focused products from AI to AR, VR, live streaming and more. Technology, and the way to use it, is evolving.


As consumers, we want to have a sense of community with fellow fans as well as connection across devices. The success of “watch together “ initiatives mean they are likely to be here for the long haul. The standard has been set by the likes of BT Sport, whose mobile app enables subscribers to see and chat with friends in a split screen mode during a game, and Sky Sports, whose new digital Fanzone allows users to watch selected matches together in a video room.


Furthermore, the demand for personalisation continues to augment. And thus the requirement for stakeholders to keep pursuing DTC engagement. Irrespective of the future of crowds, fans at home will now want to remain closer to the action, from being in control of the viewing experience via 360 degree camera experiences to receiving directly delivered live content, highlights, offers, interviews and statistics.


Finally, fan activation solutions are an integral future element of the push towards more data-driven sponsorships. Expenditure and ways to generate as much value as possible are continuously having to be reviewed. This will be aided by the data and information being gathered from digital activation solutions, showing fan interests and behaviour. It is essentially sports very own test and trace system, enabling stakeholders to see what works where, when and for how long.


The speed in the rise of fan activation solutions may have been forced on the industry due to circumstance. Yet this is no mere flash in the pan. With the technologies available, the desires of the modern fan, the uncertainty for the future and the need for more cost-efficient and data driven sponsorships, fan activation solutions are very much here to stay.


(Photo credit: Geek Wire)

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